Financial advice can be a bit of a Catch-22 — you often need it when money is tight, but financial advisors usually charge fees for their services. And because money is tight, you may not be able to afford that cost.
Fortunately, there are many ways you can find financial advice that is low cost or even free. These are not substitutes for personalized financial advice, but they could be worth considering until you can afford advice tailored to your situation.
Top ways to get free financial advice
If you can’t afford a financial advisor yet, there are many places you can look first for free or cheap financial advice. Here are some places to look.
1. Start with your bank or credit union
Banks and credit unions sometimes provide articles to help their customers learn basic financial principles. This is a good option because you are probably already familiar with the organization and its website, app, etc. Start there if you aren’t sure where to look for free financial advice.
2. Online brokers
Do you have an IRA or a brokerage account with an online broker? Much like banks and credit unions, these firms often have articles that break down the basics of personal finance. Because they are brokers, their educational material likely covers investing as well. They may even go a step further and offer financial planning tools and calculators to help you build a financial plan.
3. Budgeting and financial planning apps
Using a budgeting or financial planning tool can be a helpful way to take control of your money. But many of these apps offer supplemental material to help you learn about personal finance. Those materials could come in the form of articles, videos, or even workshops.
4. Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB)
The CFPB is a U.S. government agency “dedicated to making sure you are treated fairly by banks, lenders and other financial institutions,” according to its website. In support of its mission, it provides a host of articles, guides, and news reports on the topics of credit cards, debt collection, mortgages, and more.
5. The Association for Financial Counseling & Planning Education (AFCPE)
The AFCPE is an organization providing financial coaching, counseling, and education. The organization has partnered with the Yellow Ribbon Network to provide free financial counseling in light of the COVID-19 pandemic. Yellow Ribbon is an organization that provides various forms of assistance to military service members and veterans. However, you don’t have to be associated with the military to use this free service.
6. Financial Planning Association (FPA)
The FPA offers pro bono financial planning for underserved and at-risk communities. The association has 80 active chapters in states all over the U.S. It also has a list of CFPs providing pro bono financial planning for underserved communities most impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic.
7. Savvy Ladies
Savvy Ladies is a network of 3,000 volunteers providing free financial education for women. Its goal is to promote the advancement of self-reliant, financially educated women. The network provides free financial help in addition to hosting events and webinars.
When should you pay for financial advice?
Free financial advice can be a critically important resource, especially for underserved communities and those experiencing financial hardship. However, many of these organizations rely on volunteers and may not have the resources to help in all circumstances. If you need help with more advanced financial planning, it might be worth paying someone instead.
If you have complex estate planning or tax questions, these could go beyond the scope of a typical volunteer service. The same could be said if you are starting a business and need help organizing your business finances. In general, volunteer or pro bono services are best for helping with basic, day-to-day financial planning.
Not everyone can afford to spend hundreds of dollars for the personalized help of a certified financial planner (CFP). This is often the case for underserved communities and even the middle class during economic crises. Fortunately, your bank, broker, or a volunteer group or government organization may provide free resources to help you get back on track.
However, it can also be worthwhile to pay a financial professional in some cases. Complex tax and estate planning questions might justify a fee – and can pay off in the long run in these cases. Starting with free resources is often a good idea, but be aware that there can be limits to using them.
You can also take advantage of Bankrate’s free course on investing for beginners where we break down the different types of investment options available and how to build a smart portfolio. Or check out this course on budgeting for beginners instead.